In January of 2002 a vicious civil war ended in Sierra Leone. One of the most atrocious aspects of this war was the abduction of children into the effort. Kids were taken as spoils from a raid and were drugged, brainwashed, raped and turned into killing machines for the various factions vying for power.
“Why were we targeted? Because we were powerless and easy to manipulate; because we were frightened and did as we were told; because we were cheap and easy to feed; because we were vulnerable; because we were children; and because they didn’t care if we lived or died.” A UNICEF project helped kids to tell their stories and created a report which was written specifically for the kids who had experienced the war. They created poems, songs, art pieces and simply wrote about what they saw and did.
“We were made to loot properties and burn houses. Many of us were forced to kill or rape our own family members, in order to ruin our moral sense and destroy our identity and our family ties. The war was over but inside our hearts and minds the war still raged. We were afraid, and our memories came to haunt us. Some of us couldn’t sleep. We had nightmares and were unable to speak. We fought, we felt anxious and we couldn’t concentrate.”
In situations of extreme trauma, many are finding that art is an effective outlet at getting traumatized individuals to release the poisonous experiences which are too awful to speak of. If we can sing, dance or draw our experiences we bypass the challenge of talking directly to someone else about them. Art is a safer form of expression.
Many who are trapped in the worst forms of poverty are subject to traumatic circumstances. Art becomes a vehicle for healing to occur when one has been abused in unspeakable ways.
Perhaps this is because art is part of our design – part of how we are made to express things for which words fail. We have been created in the image of an artistic God. Our ability to be moved by a sculpture or painting, by a piece of music or a dance, by architecture or fashion, even to be enraptured by a culinary masterpiece is due to the fact that we bear a striking resemblance to the God who made the universe in elegance, artistry and grace.
The poor are as artistic as anyone, yet because of their circumstances they do not often have the capacity in their lives to produce or enjoy art. They are robbed of the joy and sometimes the necessity of engaging in artistic pursuits. It is a theft of their humanity and of the Divine mark on their soul.
Slowly there are more and more artistic programs growing up around poor communities. Not just middle class artists who create art about the poor – sometimes that can feel like a form of exploitation. Nor simply artists who use their art to raise money for the poor - though that is welcome! But there are a growing number of programs which help our friends who have been ensnared by poverty to create their own art.
When the kingdom comes, art happens.